R. Luke DuBois
Portraits

bitforms gallery

October 7, 2014

R. Luke DuBois
Portraits

September 14–October 19, 2014

bitforms gallery
131 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002

www.bitforms.com
View exhibition guide (PDF)
View installation photos

bitforms gallery is pleased to announce its inaugural exhibition at a new storefront location on the Lower East Side. Portraits marks the gallery’s third solo exhibition with composer, artist, and performer R. Luke DuBois. It follows the recent success of a touring solo exhibition organized by the Ringling Museum of Art, which was profiled by The New York Times in January. A self-taught programmer, DuBois is best known for his explorations of the temporal, verbal, and visual structures of cultural and personal ephemera. The works on view investigate a wide range of subjects, including American circus performers, William S. Burroughs, and musicians of the downtown New York avant-garde scene. 

The exhibition marks the debut of a series of screen-based video portraits that DuBois shot in August. Capturing seven of his longtime collaborators, they include flutist Natacha Diels, bassist Melvin Gibbs, trombonist Chris McIntyre, violinist Todd Reynolds, guitarist Elliott Sharp, cellist Alex Waterman, and composer-performer Bora Yoon. Filmed in high-speed video, and slowed considerably in playback, the individual details not seen by the naked eye become focal points of interest, portraying the inner world of each sitter through the minutiae of their gestures and sounds.

Self-portrait, 1993–2014 is a data visualization work on paper that pictures a force-directed graph of DuBois’s email since 1993. Presenting what is essentially a “big bang” within his universe of personal and professional emails sent and received over 20 years, the piece realizes the mass and gravity of his relationships with nearly half a million people, as represented by unique email addresses. Galaxies of attraction are caused to form, based on those in constant dialog with one another, or those with choices of language that are more familiar, relaxed or emotional. In this constellation, the central “solar systems” in this map are governed by the five primary addresses that DuBois has used over the years. Identified by handwritten names, each person fits a social cluster that is organized by the sentiments expressed, and their topical interconnectedness, such as that indicated by carbon copy messaging and similarities in vocabulary. 

In the gallery’s street-level window are two video portraits from DuBois’s Circus Sarasota series: Gena Shvartsman Cristiani (“the Juggler Extraordinaire”) and “Texas” Jack Fulbright (“the Fastest Roper in the World”). Filmed during summer 2013, these pieces play with the vocabulary of traditional 19th-century circus posters, such as those created by Strobridge Lithography Company for the touring American circus and Wild West shows. Originally commissioned for the Ringling Museum of Art, Circus Sarasota features portraits of five local performers from the Circus Arts Conservatory. The entire series debuted earlier this year as an interactive installation for Now, a solo exhibition organized by contemporary curator Matthew McLendon.

Prosody: WSB is a generative video installation that DuBois developed in June for an exhibition celebrating the legacy of William S. Burroughs at the Lawrence Art Center. The project is based on a three-hour voice recording of Burroughs reading his seminal 1953 novel Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict. DuBois’s work remixes the audio in real-time according to a Markov process, whereby the words are heard out of order, following one another according to an array of linear sequences in the original text containing each word; the result resembles Burroughs’s later cut-up technique that was core to his collaboration with artist Brion Gyson. Individual words from the text flash randomly on screen, typographically stylized according to the logic of a custom prosody analysis, measuring Burrough’s vocal tempo.

DuBois continues his exploration of Burroughs and generative poetry with a new series of 25 typewritten compositions, which also make their debut in the New York exhibition. Executed on a vintage Hermes Rocket typewriter, the same portable model used by Burroughs, these surrealist texts offer Markov-chain renditions of Junkie that are derived from the Prosody: WSB software. Presenting a stream of consciousness that is algorithmically muddled, DuBois’s excerpts return the words of Junkie to their type-written origin, on letter-size paper. Based on an algorithm that implicates the Burroughs/Gysin cut-up technique, the result is a statistically filtered sequence of random text variables. Skillfully playing on Burroughs’s approach to the arts and language, the series creates an unexpected collision between private communications, drug use, and spam.

The earliest work on view, Pop Icon: Britney (2010) considers the shifting meaning of “icon.” The original Greek word εικων (eikon, or image) was used to signify an object of veneration, a staple of Eastern Orthodox and Catholic religious art that depicts important figures in highly stylized, symbolic (iconic) poses and tableaux. Pop stars (so-called pop “icons”) in American culture find themselves in a similar situation; subjected to constant media attention, they become objects of veneration themselves. Britney Spears is arguably the first pop star to exist entirely in the age of AutoTune and Photoshop. Pop Icon: Britney takes all of Spears’s extant videos and singles and subjects them to a computational process that locks her eyes in place, allowing the video frame to pan around her, keeping her in a fixed position akin to an Orthodox icon. In addition, her voice is stripped from her songs (creating an “a capella” mix) and filtered through the reverberation of the San Vitale Basilica in Ravenna, Italy, one of Western Europe’s most important sites of Byzantine iconography.

Copies of the monograph R. Luke DuBois – Now, published earlier this year by Scala for The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, are available at the front desk. It features essays by Matthew McLendon, Anne Collins Goodyear, Dan Cameron, and Matthew Ritchie. A fully illustrated exhibition guide is also be available at the gallery and online.